Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Philadelphia Story

If you haven't seen The Philadelphia Story, stop reading this and go watch it. Its so good I can barely stand it. This is one of those rare movies that is startling in its perfection. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart... I mean, come on.

Marisa de los Santos says it best in her novel, Love Walked In. "If you have seen it, then you know there's a moment when Katherine Hepburn as Tracy Lord steps from a poolside cabana. She's got a straight white dream of a dress hanging from her tiny collar-bones, a dress fluted and precise as a Greek column but light and full of the motion of smoke. A paradox of a dress, a marriage of opposites that just makes your teeth hurt it's so exactly right." Damn straight.

Santos also discusses a point so often overlooked in this straight-forward comedy... the audience should never have believed it. You see, Tracy Lord is loved by all. Any and all. Even her ex-husband, the dashing and darling Dexter, can't help but fixate on this biting creature. Her love story exists in three tales, all quite convincing.

We immediately approve her dear fiance, the one she throws to the ground and dirties before he may mount his horse... happy-go-lucky Tracy Lord finds clear contentment in this lovely and humble man. And we want that too.

Then Dexter, who in the opening scene (in which my friend Sarah and I will never lose humor) throws Tracy to the floor with a swift shove to her strong yet intricate forehead, and later declares in the sternest and most intimate of tones, "You'll never be a first rate woman or a first rate human being until you have some regard for human frailty." (Ah, the swimming pool scene! Is there a greater perfection!?)

.... and of course Jimmy Stewart, who we, as a collective heart, will always root for as a hard and solid truth. And we always yearn for dear Mike (J.S.) even more (is it possible?!) when he clutches Tracy in his pruned fingers and says "No, you're made of flesh and blood. That's the blank and unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy." We can't help but melt under his sincerity, under his raw sentiment, and fierce and loving tone.

If I could pick one human to emulate it would be Katherine Hepburn, no question. Sometimes I check my face for her cheek bones in desperate attempts to bring men to their knees with a sudden glance. And so do you, don't kid yourself. Yet I, as do you, often struggle with the choice of which Katherine to be... Tracy Lord the lovable dirty equestrian, Tracy Lord the stringent goddess, or Tracy Lord the embraceable and drunken human. Yet we, the viewer, will always root for all three. Then, quite abruptly, will astonish the film critic (and I, reader, am nothing of the sort) when we are completely content in the last scenes when she quickly dismisses two and ends up with one. Stringent goddess it is!

I often play a game with friends (and strangers) in which we attempt to re-cast this film with contemporary actors. (And yes, I KNOW that no one should or will ever attempt to re-make this film. It is perfect in its entirety and should not be touched. It would be like trying to repaint Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Don't you dare. But still... it's fun.) Clooney would obviously take the Grant role, no question. And I can only see Tom Hanks as Jimmy Stewart... but Tracy Lord? I have yet to find an actress with enough verve and edge to take on Hepburn... Cate Blanchett? Keira Knightly? A friend of mine recently chose Paul Rudd as Stewart, which I actually enjoy envisioning... my hairdresser, Chuck, unfortunately cast Nicolas Cage in c'est role. Yikes.

See it. Immediately. Then please tell me what you think.

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